Company tackles aviation’s poor visibility continuing danger 

Every time Dennis McIntire and Steven A. Roser hear of the loss of an aircraft due to poor visibility, they each wince. When those incidents result in the loss of life, their hearts sink.

Before going to work for Elbit Systems of America, McIntire retired as an Army CW5 with 28 years as a pilot and instructor in the rotor-aircraft community. Roser, a retired Air Force brigadier general, served 29 years in that service’s rotor community.

McIntire and Roser believe that all problems caused by poor visibility – degraded visual environments, in helicopter jargon – do not have to happen. Both laud the Army’s effort to find the perfect solution to the issue, and feel their company can make a considerable contribution. 

“To me, brown-out and white-out accidents are preventable, given the right technology and training,” McIntire said during an Oct. 23 interview. At the 2013 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition, the two worked to convince the service’s brain trust that the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, for which they work, has a system that can prevent nearly all visibility-related aircraft accidents. 

“Our solution is an upgrade to the system already on board,” said McIntire. Essentially, the Elbit system provides a 3-D grid image of a landing zone, incorporated with the standard flight information pilots receive in their flight helmets’ heads-up displays, or HUDs. Pilots can see the grid clearly, in the same line of sight as the information they receive regarding altitude, attitude, ground speed, air speed and other data. 

McIntire cited a simulator test conducted two years ago at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., in which 22 percent of the simulated aircraft not equipped with Elbit’s three-dimensional symbology “crashed” or were forced into go-around procedures. 

“One hundred percent of those with 3-D were successful,” McIntire said.

Roser remembered being quickly convinced of the system’s efficacy after making an identical simulator flight with it. 

“You can be on a routine mission and have it become incredibly dangerous in a matter of seconds,” Roser said. 

Most degraded visual environment accidents occur because of side drift, Roser said, which can cause an aircraft to miss its landing zone and flip over to one side when it reaches the ground.  

“In brown-outs or white-outs, you [sometimes] won’t even realize you’re drifting,” Roser said. “That’s where people get killed and aircraft are lost.” 

“In some cases, you get the illusion you’re not drifting – but you are at the same rate as the dust or snow,” McIntire said. “It’s a matter of spatial disorientation.” 

The Army’s quest for a state-of-the-art sensor system that can see through dust is essential, both Roser and McIntire said. In the meantime, they said, the Elbit system can resolve 80 percent of the problems.

“We are the current provider of HUDs for virtually every CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk in the Army,” McIntire said. (Special-operations Chinooks and Black Hawks carry different HUD packages.) 

He and Roser believe if the Army would adopt their upgrade, the existing HUDs would work better. 

“We want to promote the idea that our brown-out and white-out solutions, though not perfect, exist today. We want them to start saving lives and aircraft,” McIntire said.